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How Words Can Have A Positive Effect On Your Brain

Author:NeuroGym Team

Learn How Words Can Change Your Brain

You know what? You’re great! You’re an amazing person and it’s an honor to have you reading our articles. We’re so glad that billions of years of evolution took place so that humans evolved to be such an intelligent species who are so technologically advanced that you can sit here reading pieces on our website. What a bit of luck! And it really does feel like luck to be able to share our articles with a person who is smart in a multitude of ways, yet still curious enough to want to keep learning. Thanks so much for visiting this blog and clicking on this article. You are a wonderful person, and it is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to inform you.

Sorry—that was probably a little bit overboard. But how did it feel to read all of that? On some level, it probably made you feel a little good about yourself. Right? Well, that makes sense, because it turns out pleasant words can have a positive effect on our brains!

Think about it. When you were in school and your teacher was saying you did something wrong in a mean tone of voice, how did it feel? Disheartening? Did it make you wish you were somewhere else? That’s because hurtful words can have a negative effect on us. And it’s not just a case of changing our mood a little; negative words actually influence our brain chemicals. But the good news is that positive words can too!

There is a scientific basis behind all of this. Let’s have a look.

Positive effect

The Science

The saying goes, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” While the part about the sticks and stones breaking your bones is very much true, it turns out words actually can hurt you.

Humans are a social species. Our relationships with other people have an impact on who we are and how we feel. A large part of how we communicate is by using our words, as well as body language and tone of voice. Depending on our relationship with a person, the words they say can have a much greater impact. And that’s just it; the words we use have a huge impact on us.

Words can influence stress levels, both physical and emotional. It turns out that when we hear positive words, for example “love”, areas in our frontal lobes are strengthened by the altering of the expression of genes. The frontal lobes are the biggest lobes in the brain and are responsible for voluntary movement, expressing language, and higher level executive functions such as planning. So when the frontal lobes are strengthened, this actually increases the brain’s cognitive function.

It works the other way too. Hearing negative language can negatively influence our brains. But why? There are still primal parts of our brains that are hardwired as if it were thousands of years ago. Think about it: Back then, there were a lot of things to worry about. For instance, avoiding predators and ensuring you had enough food. Those parts of our brains that are designed to worry are still there and are important for keeping us alive. These days, hostile language can bring these parts to life.

Even hearing one negative word can activate the fear center of the brain, the amygdala. This, in turn, releases stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. All of this actually makes it harder for our brains to function and shuts down the part of our brain that focuses on logic and reasoning (again in the frontal lobes).

Do Words Hurt?

In a scientific study investigating whether words hurt, sixteen healthy volunteers, eight males and eight females, had their brains scanned while pain-related negative words were heard, spoken, or thought. The findings were that negative words caused situational stress and contributed to long-term anxiety.

Since we’re a social species, we can regulate each other with the words we use. If we use hateful words to one another, stress-inducing hormones are released into our bloodstream, which has a negative impact.

But what words can change our brains and subconscious minds? Well, that will depend greatly on our personal life experiences. If we, personally, have a negative association with a word then that word can impact us in negative ways. For example, if we are afraid of spiders, hearing that word will likely induce fear (apologies to any arachnophobes reading that). Equally, if we have a personal positive association with a word, it will have a positive effect on us. If we love ice cream, for instance, a friend asking us to come with them to get ice cream will make us feel good.

So, it turns out that like sticks and stones, words really can hurt you, but words can also have a positive effect. 

Strategies For Having A Positive Effect On Others

There’s a book written by experts Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman called Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy. The book deals with the idea of compassionate communication and how words really do change your brain. 

The book tells us that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” That’s quite the claim, and as we have seen from the science outlined above, remarkably, there is evidence to back it up.

A lot of the strategies outlined to help you build better relationships and become a better communicator involve positivity. Some believe that it takes nine positive things to combat hearing one negative thing. As we have learned, our brains are hardwired for negative emotions and experiences like worrying. We have been trained by evolution to focus more on negative things as it is important to our survival. So we know negative words can really do damage. But if words can change you, can being positive really have a positive effect?

Think about it like this: If a person gives you a compliment, what are you going to do? You are probably going to say thank you and give them a compliment back. That’s the natural thing to do; we’re a social species and we’ll usually communicate in kind. Because words can change us, that exchange will have a positive impact on our brain chemicals, and lead to us feeling better. 

Healthy communication is really important for cultivating a positive culture in any group. Team building will always involve some kind of communication. It really is crucial to encourage everyone to feel they can openly communicate in a group setting. The best way to do this is to set the example yourself and communicate in fair, open, and honest ways.

Changing How We Speak 

The Dalai Lama once said, “When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.” He knows a little something about peace so it’s probably a good idea to take that advice. And it makes sense. It’s hard to be a beacon of positivity to everyone around you if you have inner negativity. As well as this, positive words can help you become more motivated! The motivational centers of the brain increase their activity upon hearing words we have positive associations with. Because words can change us, if we speak to ourselves nicely it will have a positive impact.

But how do we do that? Well, positive affirmations can help. Positive affirmations are things we say to declare something positive and having some self-love quotes at the ready is a great place to start. You can put them in your phone, keep them in a journal, or hang them on your wall. Anything that helps you use them to back yourself up.

Here are seven of our favorite positive quotes that help us stay motivated:

  • From Yoko Ono: “You change the world by being yourself.”
  • Beyoncé, who we are all willing to bet on: “If there’s one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself.”
  • Catwoman Zoë Kravitz shared these wise words: “Beauty is when you can appreciate yourself. When you love yourself, that’s when you’re most beautiful.”
  • A reminder from Eleanor Roosevelt about loving ourselves first: “Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”
  • Winnie the Pooh, who we hope never changes: “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
  • Strong words from Queen Latifah: “Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self.”
  • And a great quote by Buddha: “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
  • Put together some positive sayings for yourself to help adjust the way you think. If you have a positive view of yourself, it is easier to see the good in other people. Listen to how you talk to yourself and adjust it; words can influence our subconscious minds, so we should watch what we say to ourselves.

    Final (Positive) Words

    Words can have a positive influence on our brains, and they can change how we and others around us feel. We need to keep in mind that there are some words that should be avoided in certain scenarios, and sometimes we may have to adjust our language somewhat to ensure our relationship with a colleague stays positive.

    Words can trigger negative thoughts, but we can change negative associations by speaking to ourselves and others in a more positive voice. So, be nice to yourself and others. Remember, we are all human and we all deserve love, especially from ourselves.

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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